Billy Reid (Irish republican)

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For other people named Billy Reid, see Billy Reid (disambiguation).

William "Billy" Reid (1 January 1939 – 15 May 1971[1]) was a member of the Belfast Brigade of the Provisional Irish Republican Army.[2] Reid was responsible for the death of the first British Army soldier killed in The Troubles and was later killed as he attempted another ambush of British Army personnel.


Reid was from Sheridan Street near to Duncairn Gardens, in the New Lodge area of Belfast.[2] He grew up in Regent Street in the Carrickhill area of North Belfast. Reid attended schools in the North Belfast area and then became a joiner by trade. Reid enjoyed cycling, art and music and played the trumpet as well as writing his own songs. Reid also boxed at an amateur level for the Holy Family Club in Belfast.[1]

Shooting of Gunner Curtis[edit]

Reid is reported to have shot dead Gunner Robert Curtis of the British Army in New Lodge, Belfast on 6 February 1971; Curtis was the first on-duty British soldier to be killed in Ireland since the 1920s.[3][4]

Gunner Curtis' shooting is seen as the beginning of the all-out war between the Provisional Irish Republican Army and British forces. The day after the shooting of Curtis, the Unionist Prime Minister, Major James Chichester-Clark stated that "Northern Ireland was at war with the Irish Republican Army Provisionals". The following week, following clashes at an IRA funeral in north Belfast, the Stormont government, which at that time was responsible for security in Northern Ireland banned the wearing of military style uniforms by "subversive organisations".[5]


On 15 May 1971 a foot patrol of the British Army was ambushed in Academy Street in the centre of Belfast by the Third Battalion Belfast Brigade. Billy Reid, aged 32, was kicked to death after being wounded in the ensuing gunfight.[3][6]


Reid is the subject of a song called "The Ballad of Billy Reid" which tells the story of Reid's death. This song has been recorded by a number of bands including Shebeen, Terry O'Neill, Spirit of 67, The ShamRogues and the Wolfe Tones.[7] The song was also included in the songbook "Songs of Resistance 1968-1982".[8]

A mural depicting Reid and other Irish republicans Sean McIlvenna, Rosemary Bleakley and Michael Kane is painted on the New Lodge Road in Belfast.[9]

A Republican flute band from Glasgow, Scotland named itself the "Volunteer Billy Reid Republican Flute Band" in memory of Reid.[10]


  1. ^ a b Tírghrá. National Commemoration Centre. 2002. p. 14. ISBN 0-9542946-0-2. 
  2. ^ a b Lost Lives. Mainstream Publishing. 2007. p. 72. ISBN 1-84018-504-X. 
  3. ^ a b Taylor, Peter (1997). Provos The IRA & Sinn Féin. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 89–91. ISBN 0-7475-3818-2. 
  4. ^ Soldiers, sashes and shamrocks: Football and social identity in Scotland and Northern Ireland
  5. ^ Eamon Phoenix. “35 Years Since First British Soldier Shot Dead In Troubles” Irish News. Retrieved on 2007-02-11.
  6. ^ English, Robert (2004). Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA. Pan Books. p. 137. ISBN 0-330-49388-4. 
  7. ^ The Ballad of Billy Reid[dead link]
  8. ^ CAIN Web Service - Extracts from 'Songs of Resistance 1969-1982
  9. ^ CAIN Mural Directory
  10. ^ Billy Reid band anniversary